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Locals ready for 49ers’ long-awaited return to playoffs Locals ready for 49ers' long-awaited return to playoffs

San Francisco hasn't made the playoffs since 2002 season
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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Lloyd Lawson waited in line for two days to get tickets to witness “The Catch,” in person. The wait was nothing compared to the 3,296 days Lawson and the rest of the Niners’ fans and players have waited for the once legendary team to return to the playoffs. A life-long 49ers fan and season ticket holder for 34 years, Lawson is like many San Francisco fans. During the 80s through the mid-90s, fans took the playoffs for granted as a crop of hall of famers led San Francisco to five Super Bowls from 1981-1994. The perennial championships, though, have run dry and – even worse – so have the playoff appearances. The 49ers haven’t been to the playoffs since January 5, 2003. “It’s actually been real disappointing,” said Lawson, who works as an insurance agent in Meadow Vista. “I’ve had season tickets through the great years and to fall so far down and be so bad over those years were really tough. There were times when I couldn’t even give my tickets away.” Nine seasons of an unprecedented playoff drought ends at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when the NFC West champion 49ers take on the New Orleans Saints. A wave of uncertainty relentlessly hit the 49ers over the last decade and half. They have undergone five coaching changes since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1994 and were thought to be destined this season for another year of rebuilding under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh. Instead, San Francisco has used largely the same roster it had last year in a 6-10 season to finish 13-3 and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. For its efforts, Las Vegas deemed the 49ers a 3.5-point home underdog to the Saints. “I would have been very happy just being 8-8,” Lawson said. “Just a .500 season I thought would have shown progress. It’s amazing what they’ve done. The coaching is phenomenal in my opinion. How one guy can change the attitude of 50 people or what ever is on the team, pretty amazing.” A change of this magnitude isn’t unprecedented in the NFL or even the 49ers. Roseville native Dan Bunz was a linebacker for the team from 1978-84 where he witnessed back-to-back 2-14 seasons before winning Super Bowl XVI in 1981. The Super Bowl appearance was set up by Dwight Clark’s leaping catch in the end zone, dubbed “The Catch,” in the NFC championship game. It was Bunz’s goal line tackle, dubbed “The Stop,” that helped seal the Super Bowl title. “I’m pleased as punch,” said Bunz, who is a physical education teacher at Sutter Middle School in Sacramento. “When you teach school everybody gives you a bad time, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with you’re team?’ Now, I’ve got some bragging rights but now people are calling me for my tickets.” The 49ers won’t face an easy opponent in their return to the playoffs. The Saints won the Super Bowl two years ago and quarterback Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s 27-year-old passing record this season with 5,476 yards. He also threw for 466 yards last week in a 45-28 win over the Detroit Lions. This year’s team my not be a reiteration of the teams of yesteryear but 49ers fans aren’t ready to give up hope. “It was quite a run,” Lawson said of the Super Bowl titles. “We’re hoping for a new one. We’re looking for a whole new batch of that type of thing.”